Friday, March 30, 2007

They just don't get it

General Conference starts tomorrow, and I have been looking forward to this one even more than usual because this time around, I feel a special need for the spiritual nourishment it always affords. To borrow a phrase from Pope John Paul II, the past three years have truly been my "dark night of the soul," but I also wonder if I am a bit like the early apostles who figured in a vision related by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He had the vision while some of the apostles were in Great Britain, taking part in the first overseas missionary effort by the restored Church. According to the story, the Prophet saw the apostles standing about and looking at the ground, obviously downcast and discouraged amid their adversities. Just above the apostles, but unseen by them, hovered the Savior, with open arms, waiting and wanting to help them, and weeping at their plight -- but even more because of their failure to look upward, at Him, rather than downward and into the mud. It has been said that Joseph was never able to relate this story without weeping himself. In recent years, I myself have spent a lot of time looking into the mud, but it doesn't seem to have done me a whole lot of good.

But all of that is only marginally related to my reasons for writing today's post. A few days ago I learned of a new anti-Mormon DVD being distributed by a group of evangelical Christians in areas with large LDS populations. Some 350,000 of them are earmarked for distribution in Utah, and something like 150,000 others targeted elsewhere, including here in Arizona. The DVDs are placed in white plastic bags, which are then hung outside individual homes on doorknobs. An accompanying letter, sent to the distributors but obviously not intended for the general public, stresses that the DVDs are to be seen only by "Christians" until after March 25, because the Church would presumably issue an edict banning its members from seeing the production -- and, being the kind of people we are, we would of course "blindly follow" such a directive. The idea apparently is to put the videos in our hands before our cult leaders can issue the order. (Parenthetically, I wonder what these people think of all the successful LDS doctors, businessmen, educators, and other professional people who sacrifice their careers or put them on hold in order to accept a calling to serve as a mission president -- or of the two apostles called in 1984, one of whom at that time was a justice on the Utah Supreme Court, and the other a world-renowned heart surgeon. Come to think of it, Elders Oaks and Nelson do sort of strike me as "blind followers" totally unable to think for themselves, or perhaps willing participants in an evil conspiracy. But I digress.)

I have not yet seen that white bag hanging from my doorknob. Perhaps the distributors are unaware that I am LDS, or perhaps they figure I am grasped so firmly in the clutches of the Church that entrusting me with the fruit of their labors would serve no useful purpose. There is at least a shade of truth to the latter conjecture, as I have absolutely no intention of watching the video, which I understand to be a sort of updated, professionally-produced version of "The Godmakers." I have never seen "The Godmakers" all the way through, but 10 years or so ago I watched about half of it, and found it to be so deeply and utterly offensive that I simply could not stand to see any more of it. I thought it revealed far more about the people who produced it than it did about the Mormons. That film, and similar tactics commonly employed by supposedly well-meaning people who say they are merely trying to reclaim us in a "loving" way, have long since convinced me that their wearying, trite, and endlessly-repeated accusation that Latter-day Saints are not Christian is actually a badge of honor. I don't even want to be a Christian if it requires me to be anything like Ed Decker and others of his ilk.

My decision to ignore the video was not difficult -- I had a far tougher time deciding what to have for lunch today -- and it was in no way based on directives from the leadership of our evil and satanic cult, either the local leaders or the bigwigs in Salt Lake City. It stems instead from the simple fact that I have been a Latter-day Saint for 37 years, am devoted to the Church and what it believes and stands for, and cannot really imagine myself as being anything else. This is a very difficult faith to live, which I freely admit; and what doubts I do have center not around the doctrines, claims, or practices of the Church, but on whether I really have what it takes to be a Latter-day Saint. The Church demands a lot from its members, and some of its expectations and requirements involve things that do not come to me easily or naturally. But like Peter, I ask where else I would go, as the words of eternal life are right here where I am now. Besides, when I decided at age 16 to join the Church, part of what attracted me to it was the very fact that I knew it would expect so much from me. Even then, I understood instinctively what Joseph Smith had once said, to the effect that any religion that failed to demand sacrifice from its members could not generate the kind of faith necessary for salvation. And so it is that the Church has been the one constant in my otherwise unsettled and checkered life, and I keep plugging away at trying to be a faithful member, my weaknesses and all notwithstanding.

One final thought on the video before I close. I visited the Newsroom on the Church's official website a short while ago. There was a link to the Church's response to the video, which was brief and to the point and made plenty of sense. But I could not help noting the juxtaposition of the news about the latest anti-Mormon tool being posted next to other articles describing some of the ongoing activities of our dark and sinister cult, to-wit: "Quilters Sew to Help Homeless Families;" "Church Works to Save Infants Through Neonatal Resuscitation Training;" "Spontaneous Generosity is Mark of [LDS] Community;" "Mormon Helping Hands Clean Up Areas Affected by Tornadoes;" "Church Program Helps Victims of Domestic Violence;" and "Latter-day Saint Women Clothe Preemies in Canada."

I have read the New Testament more than 50 times, and distinctly recall the Savior mentioning, in the Sermon on the Mount, that His true followers would be known by their fruits. Somehow I think this short list of some of our activities accords more with the Savior's expectations of professed Christians than distribution of a DVD full of unfair and offensive attacks on religious beliefs held by other people to be deeply sacred.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

_Jesus the Christ_ in Spanish

_Jesus the Christ_ in Spanish
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
I spent some time playing with my camera this morning and created a little missionary opportunity with it. Click on the image and read my description of the photograph.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My new screensaver

My new screensaver
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
This ties in with my previous post. Soudeh Rad, an Iranian student living in Paris, included me among the recipients of her electronic Norouz greeting card, which consisted of an image she had posted to Flickr, along with the words in Persian script that can be seen here. I told her I would probably want to adopt the image as the new screensaver for our home computer, as it would be far better than the factory-installed one we had been using before. She raised no objection, so I assume I had permission to use her image in this manner; but if not, I hope I will at least merit her forgiveness.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Norouz mobarak!

Today and for the next couple of days, I will be doing something I have never done before, but will probably do again next March, and for every year thereafter. I have been sending e-greeting cards to some of my Iranian friends, wishing them all a happy Norouz, the Persian New Year, which has been a fixture in their society ever since the time of Zoroaster, and perhaps even before that. I understand the Islamic government tried to abolish the annual celebration, met with absolutely no success, and in the end abandoned the effort. Norouz officially takes place on March 21, at the precise moment of the vernal equinox; but the celebration begins some days prior to that date and goes on for about 13 days. During that time, pretty much everything in Iran shuts down, and families and friends visit each other and exchange gifts. Norouz, a festival of joy and rejoicing and just plain fun, puts our own Christmas holiday season to shame.

I believe the Iranians have the right idea, celebrating the coming of the New Year upon the arrival of spring, rather than in the dead of winter, as we do. Over time, I might learn more about the celebration and try to incorporate elements of it into my own family's rituals -- for our Home Evenings, perhaps. However, there is a part of the Norouz celebration which, in view of my arthritis and the general lack of coordination and agility which long preceded the onset of my affliction, I think I will skip altogether. It is called Chaharshanbe Suri, and consists of jumping over bonfires -- an act which is supposed to symbolize the triumph of light over darkness. I think I will either let the Iranians do that for me vicariously, or else take my chances with the darkness.

I made a reference to Chaharshanbe Suri in one of the e-cards I sent today, quoting a well-known nursery rhyme, along with an addendum I saw more than 40 years ago in a "Dennis the Menace" comic book:

Jack be nimble,
Jack be quick.
Jack jump over
The candlestick.

You GOTTA be quick
Or you'll get burned.
I tried it once --
That's how I learned.

My blog is occasionally visited by some of the Iranians I know. If any of them happens to see this, but is somehow overlooked on my list of e-greetings, I wish you and yours the best for the season. Norouz mobarak!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Favorite Dante translations

Bruce Young sparked my interest today by posting this, in which he invited his readers to weigh in on their favorite translations of Dante. The post appears at an appropriate time for me, as for weeks I have been having the urge to reread the Divine Comedy, and I suppose I should now get on the stick and act on that urge.

Humor as therapy

By nature I am not a particularly optimistic person, which I admit is not a good thing. But I do have some very effective counterbalances to my tendency toward gloom and pessimism, one of which is that I managed early on to develop what legions of people have told me is an exceptionally well-developed sense of humor. I don't say that to brag, but I really have been told that many times over the years, often to the accompaniment of such adjectives as "wonderful" or "marvelous." I was told by a friend at BYU years ago that it would bless me throughout my life, and it has, as just one example illustrates: In 1979 I was in love -- or thought I was -- with a young lady who did not reciprocate my feelings. Our relationship ended, and at the time I worked the night shift as a custodian on the BYU campus. So one night, while working, I spent the entire shift fuming over the way things had turned out between us; and while walking home at around 6:00 the next morning, the thought suddenly occurred to me that now that I had been rejected by the girl of my dreams, with absolutely nothing else left for me to live for, it would be just my luck to live to be 100 years old. A ridiculous idea, of course, but the ridiculousness of it was not lost on me even at that moment, and I immediately burst out laughing. I was fine after that.

I have never seen myself having a really good laugh, because nobody has ever made a video recording of it, but people who have seen it have told me it is very entertaining to watch, a real spectacle all by itself. I can't really describe it, but I go into convulsions, I think my face turns red, and not infrequently, I end up in tears. But man, do I feel great afterward! In Florence, Italy in 2002, I stopped at a Feltrinelli bookstore to browse around, and soon found myself sitting in a corner reading a "Calvin & Hobbes" comic book, which quickly evoked one of those fits of helpless and near-hysterical laughter. I must have spent the better part of an hour with that book, laughing practically nonstop. I wondered what the other patrons of the store thought, but I didn't particularly care then, nor do I now. Suffice it to say that "Calvin & Hobbes" translates very well into Italian.

I have always maintained that the three human qualities I most admire are courage, sensitivity, and humor, in that order. And so it was with great interest that I read this article in today's edition of Meridian Magazine, which I now share with my readers, whomever they might be.

(Note: The above post, in substantially the same form presented here, was sent as an e-mail to two of my Iranian friends, who I hope can put the article to good use.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hallowed ground

Knowing of my fascination with the Battle of Thermopylae, Julie Davis recently sent me links to several online reviews of 300, the current box-office smash hit based on the story of the Spartans who defended the pass against a Persian invasion, sacrificing themselves to the last man in order to do so. Her gesture was much appreciated, although I have decided for several reasons to skip this film. However, I hope 300 will revive public interest in one of the enduring stories of ancient history, in much the same way James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster sparked renewed interest in the sinking of the Titanic.

The Battle of Thermopylae has been mentioned previously on this site, when I compared the sacrifice of the crew and passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 to that of the Spartans in 480 B. C. There are enough obvious differences between the two events that I feel no need to belabor them -- such as, for instance, the fact that the Flight 93 participants were ordinary people, not professional warriors like the Spartans -- but the two battles are similar in their results, in that each involved a noble sacrifice against hopeless odds in order to prevent an even worse event from taking place. The Spartans and their allies at Thermopylae delayed a Persian invasion just long enough to enable the squabbling Greek city-states to pull themselves together and repel the threat; the Flight 93 passengers and crew doubtless saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, and perhaps the Capitol or White House as well, by forcing the plane to crash into the ground.

Today my own contribution to the current round of Thermopylae mania consists of two parts. The first is this image of the battlefield as it appears today. When the Spartans made their heroic stand some 2500 years ago, the pass and the trail through it were much closer to the sea than they appear in this picture, where the trail runs between the cliffs and the modern, paved highway toward the right. Centuries of accretion have replaced a portion of the Gulf of Malis with the agricultural land seen here beyond the highway -- which I believe, incidentally, to conflict with what is supposed to be happening with global warming, although that is another subject for another day:

(Click on the image to view it in a larger size.)

The second item I want to mention is the famous utterance by Leonidas when Xerxes offered to spare his life and the lives of his men if they would surrender their arms. His laconic reply consisted of only two words: molon labe, usually rendered in English as "Come get them." This translation fails to capture an important nuance of the Greek expression, which is rendered in the perfective aspect. In other words, molon ("coming") expresses a completed action, so that the Persians were not being told to "come get them" in the way we might understand that phrase, which suggests to our ears that the outcome of the battle might not be certain. However, in the Greek version, there is no such uncertainty, and Leonidas and his men plainly understood that they were doomed. Thus, the true meaning of Leonidas's defiant expression is, "After you have defeated and destroyed us, then you may take them."

It is an expression which resonates through the ages, as seen here, where it constitutes the motto of the First Corps of the modern Greek army.

As I said, I do not plan to see the movie. But I have been going through one of those occasional periods when I can't make up my mind what I want to read next, and now I think I might want to go find a good book about this battle and curl up with it somewhere.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
This is Angie Hines, who in my judgment is among the world's truly great dance instructors. But in the short time I have known her, she has already taught me much more than the fundamentals of foxtrot, swing, rhumba, and waltz. Click on the image, read the accompanying description, and find out why I think so highly of this young lady, and why my opinion of her rises a notch or two whenever my wife and I are around her.

I include this image in my blog because I believe something this good deserves to be shared.

Bedtime stories

Bedtime stories
Originally uploaded by gwilmore.
I haven't done much blogging or picture-taking lately, so last night I posted this image to Flickr in order to offer assurances that I am still alive, and today I post it here for precisely the same reason. This picture was taken by our son Colin about 2-1/2 months ago, while he visited us during the holiday season. It is one of only two images in my Flickr photostream that was not actually taken by me, although it was taken with my camera, which I had allowed Colin to check out.